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High Society: The Dangers of Procrastination

Over the past four years of which I am aware (though I am informed we are in our fifth year) RI has been engaged in a battle to legalize recreational marijuana. Even though there is record public support for such a measure (57% of people surveyed support recreational use), each attempt to pass a bill has been met with complete disregard by RI legislators. In fact, on Thurs, Apr 30, the House Committee decided to once again hold the latest bill for further study.

Over the past two years, I have been forced to write almost identical articles explaining my disappointment in our state representatives for their gross failure to comply with the wishes of their constituents. Each article focused on the misconceptions, science and existing models surrounding the cannabis industry. There’s really no need to revisit those comments here; instead I would like to focus on the actual dangers that this state faces from such a lack of insight.

Let’s talk economics. RI boasts the fourth highest unemployment rate in the nation, at 7.1%. This number means much more than a lack of jobs in the state — high unemployment rates also affect education and community and social programs that depend on tax dollars for their success. These tax dollars also are needed to support local police forces, firefighters, sanitary departments and other public resources such as road improvements, public transportation, and parks and recreations. One look into the devastating effects of the latest recession makes it clear why Rhode Island is failing to meet national standards in all of these categories. What is truly needed is an industry that will not only boost jobs, but provide tax revenue for improvements in all of these departments.

Let’s look at the model presented by Colorado’s Taxation and Regulation Program, which is still in its infancy but producing amazing results. Colorado made a total of $76 million in tax dollars from cannabis-related industries last year, not including industries that allow cannabis companies to do business, like  electricians, carpenters and accountants. The state collected so much revenue from this new industry that Colorado is required to provide tax refunds to residents and businesses who paid their taxes this year. The rest of the tax money has been allocated to Colorado schools, treatment programs and other social programs.  Additionally, it is important to note that the cannabis industry has created more jobs nationwide than any other industry in the US.

Looking at this model, it seems RI could solve many of its current problems by following the same course. But once again, the current legislators have chosen to take the “wait and see” approach. Meanwhile, the rest of New England is looking to capitalize on the cannabis industry. Vermont has introduced a bill to legalize recreational use this year, with both Maine and Massachusetts scheduled to present the topic as a ballot question in 2016. Connecticut and New Hampshire have also presented new legislation that could propel those states toward an end to marijuana prohibition, but both campaigns are being met with the same disregard as those presented in Rhode Island.

Based off existing models, analysts predict that the first new England state to legalize recreational cannabis sales stands to make millions in additional tax revenue based on tourism alone. RI, which is right in the middle of possibly the largest and most active consumer market in the US, has the potential to capture cannabis markets from MA, NY, CT, NH and even make an impact on consumers from ME and VT, the largest known region of cannabis consumption in the US. If we concede to other states looking to pioneer the recreational cannabis industry in our region, we may as well concede to our satisfaction with the current state of desperation that the RI legislation has left us in. Isn’t it time that we took an initiative to improve our economic situation as opposed to watching this opportunity slip through our fingers?




Documentary Short: Life of Substance




In Their Own Words: Nancy A. DeNuccio, Ocean State Prevention

What do you think would be the advantages of being the first state in New England to legalize?

I do not think there would be any advantages to Rhode island becoming the first state in New England to legalize recreational marijuana.

What do you think the disadvantages would be?

Disadvantages outweigh the advantages.  The verdict is not in on the impact of legalization of recreational marijuana in the states that have implemented this law.  Early data indicates an increase in drugged driving, youth access, increased black market activity, increased school suspensions,  emergency room visits from edibles and the list goes on from Colorado. Rhode Island does not have to implement this law now. Prudence would have the state wait for more concrete data to come from the few states that have launched these laws. Unintended consequences have already become apparent in Colorado. Advertisements and edibles seem targeted to youth. I worry that Big Marijuana (like Big Tobacco in the 1990s) is behind much of this movement. Rhode Island already has the dubious distinction of being number one in marijuana use in the 12- 25-year-old category (NSDUH 2014) and our youth treatment admissions for marijuana surpass any other drug or alcohol treatment admissions. Rhode Island is also eight years into legalized medical marijuana and the state is having a very difficult [time] regulating that use. How can our communities trust that recreational use will be any better regulated? The dangers from Butane Hash Oil manufacturing threatens the safety of our communities. Proponents of legalized recreational marijuana rally behind the cry that by regulating this drug youth will be better protected. Where is the data supporting that claim? The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study: Teens and Parents, 2013 surveyed US high school students and indicated, marijuana legalization would likely increase use among teens who already use marijuana. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of teens who reported using marijuana at least once in their lifetime said that legalizing the drug would make them more likely to use it. In addition, more than three-fourths (78%) of heavy marijuana users reported that legalizing the drug would make them more likely to use it. Only 16% of teens who reported that they had never used marijuana agreed that they would be more likely to use marijuana if it were legal. According to the authors, “One possible scenario suggested by these data is that even if legalization does not drive up overall prevalence of teen marijuana use, it may lead to increased use among those already using, including teens who are already smoking marijuana almost daily (http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/cesarfax/vol22/22-26.pdf).”

That kind of information is what really scares me. Today’s marijuana is not what was used in Woodstock in 1969. These are just some of my concerns about the disadvantages of legalizing recreational marijuana.

If cannabis is legalized, what (if anything) would be fair to do about past criminal conviction records for cannabis-related offenses? Should racial and ethnic disparities in criminal justice consequences be taken into account in any way?

According to the RI Attorney General’s Office, there are no criminals in our local prisons whose sole charge was a minor cannabis-related offense, so I don’t think that this would be a big issue in Rhode Island.  Racial and ethnic disparities should never be a part of criminal justice consequences.

Marijuana is sometimes referred to as a gateway drug. Would you expect to see an increase in use of other drugs if cannabis is legalized?

The concept of marijuana as a gateway drug could be argued for a long time, but suffice it to say that there are very few people in recovery who would not make the link with marijuana being their entry into addiction. More research needs to be done on addiction and how family history comes in to play. I can’t comment on further expectations of an increase in other drug use. I do know that there are no state dollars spent on substance abuse prevention and if recreational marijuana were legalized, the work of my prevention colleagues would be increased.

Read what Jared Moffat of Regular RI had to say. 

 

 

 




The Colorado 420 Tour

One of our contributors took a 420 bus tour during a recent trip to Colorado. Read about her experience. 

We land at Denver International Airport and friends from college pick us up. The driver hands my boyfriend a rolled joint she bought for his arrival.

They drive us to the Crown Plaza where I am surprising him with a 420 Tour, the first cannabis-friendly tour company advertising 420 friendly hotel rooms, dispensary tours, vacation packages and cooking classes (my420tours.com). I ask the hotel desk clerk where I sign up for the tour and she points me to two people in green t-shirts with brochures at a table in the coffee shop. We head to the table and I give them our names. My boyfriend looks at me confused. I hand him the brochure and say, “Happy Birthday!”

A friend meets us there. We show our IDs  (you have to be 21), sign waivers and are invited to get on a 40-passenger bus with smoked windows that looks like a typical limo party bus. The people on board are passing a large joint around. My boyfriend and I find a seat, introduce ourselves and imbibe. The tour guides, Jenny and Mike, show up and give us an intro to our next five hours: Drink lots of water because of the altitude, eat edibles with care (10mg to start, if not an every day user of cannabis) and have a good time legally smoking pot on the bus.

Our first stop is a dispensary called Le Conte’s Clone Bar and Dispensary, on the outskirts of Denver. The building looks like something out of a 1950s western and the storefront sign is green neon. The guide tells us that the store’s manager will welcome us, provide an overview and announce specials for those of us on the tour.

It’s like the manager is speaking Greek. “Fifty percent off any ¼ oz of flower; purchase 2 grams of wax or shatter, get 50% off the go-pen; buy 2 OpenVape cartridges, and get a free o-Pen.” He tells us it is okay to take pictures. The inside looks like an old bar converted into a store. The recreational customers (us) come in through the front, show IDs and head into a roped-off line to meet with one of three cashiers. On our right is a counter loaded with clones, or plants.  Each one is labeled with its type. They are guaranteed for 30 days and cost $15 a plant for medical customers, and $30 for recreational. The medical customers enter through a door on the side of the building and head to a back room designated for people with medical cards.

We get waited on by the budtender and feel like kids in a candy store because we really have no idea what to buy for our week in Denver. I suggest we purchase some regular old pot, and we end up buying two eighths, the OG Stomper and the Chem Geisal. One is an indica and the other is a sativa. Sativa is the “upper” of pot and Indica is the “relaxer.” The bud tender explained, “If you had stuff to do, smoke the energetic/active Sativa and if you want to chill on the couch at the end of the day, smoke the Indica.” Sativa is more heady while Indica is more body high, and they also sell hybrids of all of this. We also bought some brownies and a glass bowl. Because we were on the tour, we got the second eighth for a penny.  You can’t beat that price. An eighth cost us $40. Tourists (or non-Colorado residents) can only purchase a quarter at a time.

We get back on the bus and head to the manufacturing plant, owned by Le Conte’s. We enter a small reception room and put on badges, and are told that we can take pictures but cannot step into any of the grow rooms due to pests. Humans apparently can give cannabis plants mites and other diseases. We enter a long hallway with rooms on each side. Each room contains different sets of plants at a different stage in the grow cycle.

We talk in detail with the two managers giving the tour about the different career opportunities in the industry. Our friend, who has moved to Denver, is looking for part-time work and we discuss her being a trimmer.  It sounds to me that trimmer is on the low end of the cannabis industry jobs, but that is how one gets their foot in the door.

We get back on the bus and head to a glass shop/museum filled with hundreds of pieces of pipes. One pipe costs over $10,000. The 420 Tour stops for lunch at a taco place before heading back to downtown Denver for our final dispensary stop at Native Roots (nativeroots303.com), which has five locations around Colorado.

You enter a waiting room, much like a doctor’s office, and get called in one at a time as the budtenders become available. At this shop, my boyfriend learns about vape pens for cannabis oil. The special for the 420 tour is to purchase a container of oil, called canna sap, and get a pen for a penny. We also purchase chocolate candy, the Blue Kudu and hard candy here. My friend and I talk at length with the budtender about Foria, a sexual spray for women made with coconut oil and cannabis.  It’s described as “a cannabis-infused sensual enhancement oil designed for female pleasure. Foria is hand-crafted from the female flower of the marijuana plant — one of the oldest known aphrodisiacs in the world — using modern extraction techniques for optimal potency and purity.” I decide it’s too pricey to only purchase it for the vacation, since bringing it home would be considered illegal.  The budtender raves about it (foriapleasure.com/pages/about-colorado).

The bus ends up back at the Crown Plaza, at 4:20pm, and the tour guides invite everyone to the roof where they allow public consumption.  A fitting end to a highly educational day.




Locale Profile: Elevated Lounge

The weather is finally taking a turn for the better in Providence, and so are the times for medical marijuana patients (MMPs for short). Opened last February on Peck St in Downcity is the Elevated Lounge, an MMP-only lounge where patients can get together to learn, socialize and medicate in a comfortable, safe and friendly environment.

I walked through the front door next to a large glass window with the company logo on it and found myself in a powder-blue room facing the glass case containing vaporizers and accessories the establishment rents to patrons. Behind the case was an industrial dishwasher used for washing the merchandise between uses, additional vaping apparati and, of course, the snack bar.

To the right of the door is where the magic happens; the rest of the space is taken up by an array of comfy couches, low coffee tables and chairs for the patrons to settle into while they congregate. The walls are tastfully decorated with small framed pictures and a couple flatscreen TVs, setting the backdrop for the exchange of ideas and good vibes that takes place while patient members medicate.

I was greeted by Ray Diao, who cofounded the Elevated Lounge with Kevin Cintorino. Ray was gracious enough to answer my questions and allow me to have a look around the establishment.

Ray and Kevin were inspired to open the Elevated Lounge largely by their personal experience as patients. Unable to medicate in the building they lived in, they were forced to look for alternative places to take their medicine. They decided to adapt a West Coast model for a patient lounge to the East Coast medical community’s needs. After studying the law extensively, the duo began the search for a locale in which to nurture their dream into a reality. It took some shopping around before they settled into the Peck St location because not all the landlords they approached were receptive to their concept.

Their location has been transformed into a place where cardholding members can come to vaporize (not smoke) their medicine and participate in a variety of events ranging from a viewing of the Justin Beiber roast to a weekly event dubbed “Shatterday,” where patients compare notes on the production of their medicated oil. Patients have a forum in which to discuss their ailments and the ever-evolving law governing the use and procurement of their medication, and compare and share growing and edible techniques.

Although currently unable to offer medication onsite, the lounge is located only minutes away from the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, a place where cardholders who are unable to provide themselves with their own medicine can procure it legally.

It is my opinion that the Elevated Lounge and establishments like it are an important step forward in the progression of medical marijuana policy. They provide a focal point for patients to gather and enjoy the relief that their chosen medicine allows while sharing in the fellowship of others in the same position. They allow people to come together and share knowledge and experience, and surely will be the birthplace of many forward-thinking concepts that will one day become the norm.




Hemp and the Freedom to Grow

“The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.” -Thomas Jefferson.

It’s ironic that the country founded on the principals of liberty and freedom still prohibits its citizens from growing a plant. I’m talking, of course, about industrial hemp. A plant that has more than 30,000 uses and is considered a superfood. Even more absurd is the fact that hemp is imported from other countries, but growing it in America is forbidden.

Did you know that the US Constitution was written on hemp paper? The first American flag was made out of hemp. In the past, army uniforms were made of hemp. In 1937 Popular Science Magazine called hemp “The New Billion Dollar Crop.”

And then it was banned.

Federal laws against hemp are a prime example of how our government stifles our freedom. Under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, hemp and marijuana are classified exactly the same. To the untrained eye, I can see how the plants might seem similar. However, industrial hemp contains less than 1% of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. Therefore, it would take a joint the size of a telephone pole to get any effect from hemp.

Farmers should be outraged. Hemp farming requires little or no pesticides. Hemp also requires less water than other crops, and has deep roots that leave the soil in an improved condition after harvesting. This makes hemp one of the best possible crops for a farm to put in rotation.

Consumers also should be outraged. Hemp retail sales in the US are estimated to be over $420 million annually; that’s $420 million from a product we are forced to import. America is in need of jobs, yet we continue to dismiss this possible market. With the decriminalization of industrial hemp, thousands of employment opportunities could be created in agriculture, marketing, distribution, sales and manufacturing.

The fact that we have to be granted permission to grow a plant is an insult to our freedom. The criminalization of industrial hemp must come to an end.




Medical Marijuana Patients Concerned About Senate Bill 791

We talked to The Rhode Island Patient Assistance Coalitions’ JoAnne Leppanen about a proposed bill in the Senate that has a lot of caregivers and medical marijuana patients concerned. She not only shared their concerns, but gave us a quick history of medical marijuana in RI.

“The original legalization of medical marijuana was really an act of compassion on the part of the legislature,” says Leppanen. Yes, recreational users were getting arrested – but so were patients for whom the drug provided a sometimes life-altering treatment option. “It was a big deal in 2006, when it became legal for licensed patients to use marijuana,” she explains. There was an awkward period during which use was legal, but selling or purchasing was not. “Where were they supposed to get it?” asks Leppanen, pointing out that not everyone has the skills to grow their own.

So the legislature decided to allow caregivers – people who could grow for a small number of patients. These caregivers are licensed, over 21, without criminal records, and act only with the consent of their patients. As described by Leppanen, these caregivers are usually drawn to the opportunity to alleviate suffering, and are especially valued by patients whose conditions may make it hard for them to travel, communicate or take on jobs with health insurance.

“We have some phenomenal caregivers who really help their patients,” she says, describing caregivers who pursue much smaller margins – or no margins – to help patients in particularly challenging situations.

These caregivers would all be made immediately illegal if Senate Bill 791 were to pass. This bill proposes that only licensed growers would be allowed to grow cannabis. Before you say, “that could make sense,” the bill further suggests that there be only two licensed growers in the state, and that they could only sell to licensed compassion centers (currently three in RI). These two growers would apply for state licenses – but why only two, and why it seems a good idea to grant these two what amounts to a state-approved monopoly is unclear. Could it be to position them for a future, post-legalization market?

Leppanen declines to speculate – especially when it comes to any discussion of legalization. “We’re about the medical care and supporting those whose medical conditions are effectively treated by cannabis,” she says. “This bill would undermine the most basic tenet, the primary intent of the medical marijuana program. The compassion centers are great – there’s definitely a crucial role that they fill – but many of the patients who greatly need medical marijuana are on SSDI or disabled. Their income is limited, and there is no third-party reimbursement for medical marijuana. A compassion center has overhead and employees – it has to run like a business. It can’t provide the same attention, the same prices, the same access for those who can’t get to centers, and the same room for individual grace that caregivers can. Caregivers are the unsung heroes of the medical marijuana movement,” she explains. And this bill would end them.

“So … why, exactly, do we need this,” she asks, “and who would it help?”

The bill has not passed the Senate Judicial Committee and has no corresponding bill in the House – two steps that would be necessary before the legislature could vote on it. But there seems to be some heavy lobbying support behind it, and a cadre of senators backing it.

You can learn more at ripatients.org, where they include links to the proposed statute itself.




Chowing Down

If you drink, you learn pretty quickly where your tolerance points are. You know what a blood alcohol level is (although I wish the math behind that was being taught in school, or at least college) and you probably understand, more or less, that 12% alcohol booze will have a different effect than 6%. Or 40%. We even have conventions in serving size that tend to even out the math – most large beer glasses are roughly equal to smaller wine glasses or much smaller shot glasses. Not a perfect system, but it helps drinkers keep track.

But when it comes to edible marijuana products – and we’re anticipating future legalization here, but this also applies to consumables available on the medical market – similar conventions don’t yet exist. The testing industry – and there is a nascent one evolving – certainly has measurements. But how well will they be understood by potential consumers? And how consistent will they be? If you get a cake somewhere and it has more chocolate than the baker intended, you probably won’t even notice. But if the concentration of cannabis in a medible is off, it’s a different story.

The good news is that while an extreme alcohol overdose can kill you, a cannabis overdose is, at worst, likely to create a “bad experience.” The bad news is it will take time and a lot of education – for producers, and more challengingly, for consumers – before the effects of different edibles are easily and clearly communicated.

Pretty much any product that involves fat, butter or sugar can be infused with cannabis (see companion article). Not just brownies — soups, stew, chili, cookies, hot chocolate, mac & cheese and of course, pot pies – almost any food can be created with a cannabis kick.

In Colorado, our national leader on these issues, edibles must be packaged in servings that contain 10 milligrams of THC. Like the shot-beer-wine set up, this might result in a large brownie or a small sucking candy, but it is a consistent dose. Colorado also requires warning labels about waiting for the effects (the effects of edibles take longer than smoking – generally an hour or two to set in, and they generally last longer). But the challenge faced there and in future legalizing states is to make sure these ideas are understood by consumers and treated responsibly. Over the last two years, these regulations have been adjusted a few times to make them clearer.

Right now in RI compassion centers and compassionate care arrangements, edibles are identified by the number of milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and number of milligrams of cannabidiol (CBD) per serving (and packages indicate how many servings per package). It’s good, comprehensive information for informed consumers, which those with medical cards ought to be. And it’s presented in environments where caregivers are available to answer questions and give guidance. Regulatory bills currently being considered in RI focus on raw cannabis and propose addressing edibles later, in future legislation. What general consumer labeling might look like here is still an open question.

According to The Denver Post, nearly 5 million edibles were sold in the state in 2014, and the form seems to be growing in popularity, so packaging and labeling concerns are sure to become a part of the RI legalization conversation soon.




These Aren’t Grandma’s Cookies

Patients can use their medical marijuana in numerous ways, but one of the most trending methods is eating it. Medible (medicinal edibles) use has risen to a new level on the East Coast; patients aren’t limited to just consuming brownies anymore. Caregivers can specialize in what patients need, whether a bite-sized medicated treat or even a medicated barbecue sauce. There are many ways to make these edibles, along with multiple ways of preparing and creating these tasty treats. First, a patient or caregiver needs to determine what part of the plant they will use for the edibles. To make a light edible, caregivers may use trimmings from their plants, such as the sugar leaves (leaves coated with thc crystals). For a heavily medicated treat, they may use the buds of the plants or even a concentrated form of THC, such as dry ice hash or kief. Even the stalks and fan leaves of the plant can be used to make salves, lotions, protein powders and more!

After a patient or caregiver chooses what part of the plant they will use for an edible, it’s time to find a medible recipe, which could require infusing the cannabis material into a fatty substance such as butter, coconut oil or even heavy cream. If a patient or caregiver wanted to make cannabutter, the process is simple. Combine an ounce of ground cannabis buds, 1 pound of butter and a cup of water and then let that simmer for roughly four hours. After the cannabis has infused, strain the butter and store it in the fridge for roughly three hours to allow the cannabutter to separate from the water. Once it has separated, poke a hole in the butter, and drain the water underneath the cannabutter. You can also infuse coconut oil with hash or kief by combining the medicinal product with the oil and heating it to 225 degrees Fahrenheit for roughly two hours.

For cannabis sugar, dissolve cannabis hash or kief into alcohol. After it has dissolved in the alcohol, add sugar to the mixture and let it dissolve. Pour the mixture onto a sheet tray and bake it in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour to an hour and a half. You will be left with a sheet of sugar and can either break it into smaller pieces or sift it so it becomes a sugary consistency again.

You can always learn more by visiting Elevated Patient Vapor Lounge located on Peck St in PVD where patients and knowledgeable patient caregivers, such as Ocean State Concentrates, get together and share the cannabis community knowledge.




High Society: The Relationship of Companion Legislation on State and Federal Levels

levels

I am chronicling the crusades to end marijuana prohibition in the US, while attempting to promote common sense changes that  may have been overlooked. In doing so, I’ve discussed two major bills (on local and state levels) introduced during the first quarter of 2015 legislation. Bill H5777 (The Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act) was introduced to the RI general assembly earlier this month and looks to be building momentum into the initial hearing, which has yet to be scheduled. The other significant bill, The CARERS Act – The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States, was introduced in the US Senate and had its House of Representatives companion bill revealed this week. Though individually both bills fail to meet the full support of the various communities within the marijuana reform movement, when viewed as companions to one another, they provide a strong framework for a future end to the war on cannabis.

To demonstrate how both bills relate to one another, let’s examine the  CARERS Act, which answers the needs of the various medical marijuana programs on a national scale. This would set precedent over any state-sanctioned regulations and relieve present complications state programs encounter when operating without federal approval. This latest version of the CARERS Act provides the much-needed protection from federal prosecution to allow state programs to facilitate the growing demand for medical marijuana treatment, regulation and research for potential advancements. Of course, individual states will need to allocate the time and resources to perfect state-run medical marijuana programs, but without federal legislation this is a risky (if not futile) venture.

With the medical marijuana battle being fought on the federal level, local governments can focus more on the other three factions of the cannabis reform movement: those against reform, those in support of recreational reform and those who seek to revive the once-booming hemp industry. H5777 will allow the full cultivation of hemp as an agricultural product, repealing over 75 years of discriminative laws that unjustly put the prosperous hemp farmers out of business. On a recreational level, this bill allows adults to possess up to an ounce of cannabis at any one time and cultivate one plant for personal use. Though this is not the “hands off” approach that idealists would prefer, it allows recreational users the ability to consume in a safe, private manner without fear of state-level prosecution.

In response to the moral conundrum, H5777 outlines an abundance of regulations and obligations concerning the RI regulation/taxation program. Not only are there bans on advertising, but 40% of all taxed recreational marijuana will be dedicated to substance abuse treatment, anti-drug education and law enforcement training. There are also a number of articles that detail penalties for underage use, operating under the influence and other moral standards that relate to the proper facilitation of a recreational marijuana program in Rhode Island. These sections hope to discourage “Wild West” scenarios feared as a result of legalized recreational use.

In short, neither of these first quarter bills will provide a magical “cure all” solution to the marijuana debate. There are those who will push toward the extreme of one side or the other, but history (as well as logic) dictates that only through compromise will marijuana legislation be perfected.